Articles

Why Legitimate Leadership Comes From South Africa

February 25, 2021 - By Teigue Payne, Financial Administrator, BA LLB

The Legitimate Leadership Model, in essence, strives to increase trust between management and non-management in all kinds of organisations; it strives to decrease the fraction of the workforce which is disaffected and disengaged, and increase the fraction which is pro-establishment.

It is no coincidence that South Africa has been, and still is, a country where there is considerable research on disaffection and disengagement in the workforce. The latest World Economic Forum report on country competitiveness for 2016-2017, for instance, ranks South Africa as having the worst labour-employee relations in the world (137 out of 137 countries surveyed).

Arising from its long history of conquest, colonialism, industrialisation and apartheid, it is probably not surprising that South Africa is a leader in labour disaffection and disengagement.

The Legitimate Leadership Model originated from seminal research into trust in management in the South African gold mines in the late 1980s, during the apartheid era. However, contrary to expectation then, trust in management was not consistently low, but varied immensely, both across mines and even in different shafts on the same mine.

Surprisingly, trust in management was not found to be a function of the political environment, working/living conditions, rates of pay, trade union activity, or the sophistication of the company’s human resources policies and systems. Rather, trust in management was granted or withheld on the basis of employees’ perception of their leadership’s genuine concern for their welfare.

The leadership of a mine was seen to be legitimate and worthy, or not, of support on this basis only.

In extrapolating these research results, it was concluded that whether the management of any enterprise is trusted and viewed as legitimate, therefore, is ultimately a function of the intent of the immediate supervisor at any level in the hierarchy.

The findings of this original research in the South African gold mining industry were developed into what is now the Legitimate Leadership Model.

Over the past 25 years the precepts of the Legitimate Leadership Model have been confirmed in diverse organisations across the world.

Coming back to 2018 … the WEF report is based on the perceptions of business executives in the countries surveyed. The executives were asked to characterise labour-employer relations in their countries as “generally confrontational” or “generally cooperative”.

Commenting on South Africa’s bottom position in the labour survey, South African industrial relations specialist Andrew Levy said employers have been depending on “bad advice” on how to tackle workplace challenges. He agreed that union rivalry contributed to poor employer-employee relations and said that management was also failing in its role.

“Our union movement is the most militant and difficult in the world at the moment,” he said. “Many unions were built on their role in the struggle (against apartheid) and saw bosses as the enemy and oppressors. We have not worked beyond that.”

According to Gawie Cillié, employment relations expert and lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa’s bottom position in the labour survey is directly linked to the low levels of trust between employers and employees. This, coupled with poor reliance on professional management, the country’s capacity to retain and attract talent, as well as high unemployment and poverty levels, had all contributed to a negative labour-employer relationship, he said.

“There are many reasons for high levels of conflict in our labour-employer relationship, but by far the low levels of trust underpin the reality we are facing,” he said. “If there is little or no trust, cooperation suffers and the conflict escalates, quickly resulting in severe damage in the relationship, costing money and employee efficiency.

“The lower the levels of trust are, the greater the need to rely on formal rules to keep employees productive and compliant.

“On the other hand, if trust is high, reliance on the rules becomes less necessary. Employees tend to be more self-motivated, conflicts tend to be resolved quickly and equitably, and formal rules (for instance relating to poor work performance or ill-discipline) only have to be applied as a last resort,” he said.

COMMENT BY WENDY LAMBOURNE: In any relationship the core issue is trust between the parties. This was true in the South African gold mining industry in the late 1980s when seminal research into trust in management on South African mines was carried out under the auspices of the Chamber of Mines. 30 years later, trust remains the core issue in South Africa’s mines, in South African organisations, and in organisations across the world. The Legitimate Leadership framework, principles and practices, applied in in diverse organisations across the world, have been shown to deliver significant improvements in trust in management as well as greater legitimacy of those in command roles, and increased employee willingness and accountability. In essence, it has been proven that trust is a function of the immediate manager’s commitment to his/her people in terms of care and growth. The degree to which managers deliver on their people’s expectations for care and growth directly impacts on the ratio of disaffected and disengaged to pro-establishment and willing workers.

Teigue Payne
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